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Small mammal bone accumulations produced by mammalian carnivores

  • Peter Andrews (a1) and E. M. Nesbit Evans (a2)


Small mammal bone assemblages from the scats of three families of mammalian carnivores are described here as a means of assessing paleontological bone assemblages. These are the Viverridae, Canidae, and Mustelidae. Marking behavior by the carnivores or their use of latrine areas can produce concentrations of bone comparable with those produced from owl pellets, but the nature of the bone assemblages is very different. Skeletal element preservation has a characteristic pattern related to the relative strength of the individual elements, so that the strongest elements are the ones that best survive the physical abrasion of the predator's teeth. Bone breakage is greatest in canids and least in some viverrids. Digestion of the bone occurs to a certain extent with all carnivores, with moderate rounding but little corrosion of either bones or teeth in viverrid-derived bone assemblages, very great rounding and severe corrosion of bone and tooth enamel (but little corrosion of tooth dentine) in canids, and moderate rounding and slight to moderate corrosion of bone and tooth dentine (but less of enamel) in mustelid-derived bone assemblages. Tooth marks are generally rare except in canid-derived bone assemblages. These patterns may enable the identification of predators responsible for the accumulation of fossil predator assemblages, and a consideration of the hunting and other behavior of that type of predator then permit the identification of possible biases in the fossil fauna. In the viverrids, for instance, the mongoose selected for large prey size and against cranial elements, while the genet took all prey sizes available to it and all body parts. Larger canids such as foxes and coyotes took both large and small species, but proportionally more of the most common prey species were present. Skulls were underrepresented. The small canid, the bat-eared fox, selected for the smallest prey species available to it but took all body parts. Mustelids took all sizes of prey, although not necessarily in proportion to their abundance in the habitat, and large species were underrepresented. If the predator type is known, therefore, for a fossil assemblage, these biases can be taken into account in assessing the paleoecological significance of the fauna. An example from the Olduvai Pleistocene deposits is given.



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